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Sometimes a small thing happens to me or someone says something that doesn’t sit well with me. Perhaps I drop bolognaise down my favourite top. Or someone in the supermarket is particularly abrupt towards me.

Do you know that feeling? Before you know it, you’re having negative thoughts and questioning everything about your life.

You try to resist it. You try to fix it. But you can’t control it. One thing goes wrong, then the next and the next.

And this frustrates you even more. Now, you’re getting sucked in by negative thoughts. At this point, something that started as a small annoyance has become a big life problem.

You feel as if everything is working against you. And that nothing is worth it.

That’s a negative thought pattern. I’ve experienced that very often. And I bet you have too. It’s fairly common with people who are stressed or have anxiety. Why do we experience this?

It’s about control. We think life should be a certain way. In other words, we want everything to happen the way we want. And if it doesn’t, we flip out.

I know that can be confronting to hear. But think about it. 

What expectations did you have that weren’t met? What were you trying to control that was out of your control?

It’s the nature of life that things happen that you didn’t expect, or that they happen differently to how you envisaged. 

How do we stop these events from becoming a negative thought pattern? How do we stop ourselves from spiralling further into negativity?

We think life should be a certain way. In other words, we want everything to happen the way we want. And if it doesn’t, we flip out.

negative thoughts

Recognise the need for perspective. When you’re stuck in a negative thought cycle, you have zero perspective. You’re consumed by your thoughts.

You need to force yourself to look at life in general. Not just your current situation. Look at the nature of life; it’s about motion: things, situations and people change and flow. 

Use the 5 by 5 rule: If it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes upset by it. 

Focus on what went right. Look back on your day or week and pick out everything that you did right, no matter how small. Did you brush your teeth without dribbling toothpaste all down yourself? Count it as a win. 

The first time you try to break a negative thought cycle can be tricky because your previous mental patterns have been to allow them to happen. It takes willpower and mental strength to force your mind away from the negative and towards the positive. Notice when your thoughts stray towards the negative thought cycle and pull them back to what went right.

If it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes upset by it.

Let go. Michael A. Singer, an entrepreneur who once ran a large software company, and the author of The Untethered Soul, summarised the concept of letting go well:

“It’s pretty black-and-white. You either let go or you don’t.”

He speaks from experience. Singer was prosecuted by the US Department of Justice for securities fraud. During that time, he risked losing it all.

Eventually, all charges against him were dropped and his name was cleared, but he let go of it way before that. In fact, he wrote The Untethered Soul while he was being prosecuted.

If a person who’s facing the risk of losing it all can let go, you and I can too.

People often come up with all kinds of excuses. They say it’s easier said than done and that letting go is not easy.

No one said it’s easy. Letting go is hard, especially at the beginning.

So if you’re stuck inside a negative thought pattern, know that you only have two options:

  • You continue and let it make you miserable
  • You gain perspective, focus on the positive and let go

The choice is yours. And yes, it’s that simple. Decide between those two options and see for yourself.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Anna Popova says:

    It is a good strategy. I think that it depends on the scale of the problem and how ‘real’ it is. If people misinterpret ‘letting go’, they might just walk away from problems. It is important to know that letting go concerns things that should not bother us and they do. Some problems in life should bother us, that is why they are problems:)

    • Sam says:

      Hi Anna, this is a really good point that you make. When I talk about letting go, I mean letting go of negative thoughts or situations which do not serve us. In terms of problems, I agree that some problems in life do bother us but I also think that it’s important to look at these problems with perspective. Too often we ruminate over problems much longer than is necessary or healthy to do so. When this happens, letting go of the rumination is helpful. The problem may still be there, but worrying about it or going over and over it in your head won’t change that. I’m reminded of something the Dalai Lama said, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”.

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